Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Aerogel must be one of the strangest supermaterials to ever exist. Ghostly and shimmering in appearance, it’s insanely light, incredibly strong, and an amazing thermal insulator. And its tricks look absolutely impossible when you see them up close.

Made for Fun

Aerogel material—often referred to as frozen smoke, solid smoke, solid air or blue smoke—is actually, like all the best things, the result of a wager. It was first created by Samuel Stephens Kistler in 1931, after he bet Charles Learned that he could replace the liquid in a jelly with gas, without causing shrinkage. Turned out, he was right!

To produce an aerogel, you take a normal gel and then—very slowly and carefully—remove the liquid, leaving behind just the solid structure. That process varies depending on the gel in question, but invariably requires some complex chemistry to facilitate removal of the liquid bysupercritical drying, which carefully avoids the liquid-gas transition by using pressure and temperature variation to go from liquid to solid to gas instead. Otherwise, the evaporation process can destroy the structure. The result is a substance that looks like the original gel but feels like expanded polystyrene to the touch.

And the material properties! Oh, the material properties. Just look at what it can do.

Aerogel Is an Amazing Insulator

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

All the trapped air in aerogel makes it a remarkable insulator. In fact, silicon aerogel has a thermal conductivity of about 0.03 W/mK in atmospheric pressure down to 0.004 W/mK in modest vacuum—values similar to those exhibited by air itself. Hold it to a flame, and you won’t notice much happen, either—silica aerogel doesn’t melt until it reaches upwards of 2,000 °F. No, really. Look.

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Aerogel Is Insanely Light

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

It’s not all silica gel, though. Yes, graphene aerogel sounds like someone combined the twobuzziest of materials buzzwords—but the results are amazing. In fact, this graphene aerogel snatched the title of the world’s lightest material just a few of months ago—with a density lower than that of helium and just twice that of hydrogen at 0.16 mg/cm3. This stuff practically floats. (Incidentally, it’s got air inside, which means that it doesn’t.) The material was created using a new technique which involves freeze-drying solutions of carbon nanotubes and graphene to create a kind of carbon sponge. The resulting material is both strong and elastic, as well as incredibly light.

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

And It’s Surprisingly Strong, Too

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Silica aerogel is also oddly strong. Just look at this image: it shows a 5-pound brick supported by a piece of aerogel which weighs just 0.07 ounces. That strength is a results of—brace yourself for this—its dendritic microstructure. All that means is that it’s made up of roughly spherical, nanoscale particles which are fused together in clusters. Those clusters are strung together in 3D shapes which are almost fractal, providing an endlessly complex and strong structure. It can even support the weight of a car:

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

For all of these amazing properties, though, aerogel is still insanely expensive to manufacture, which is why there aren’t any consumer products made using the stuff. Yet. In the meantime, let’s just daydream of super-light, flame retardant, bullet-proof suits of armor. Not bad for a little bit of frozen smoke.



Animals UV spectrum vision allows them to see electricity on power lines

Animals See Power Lines as Terrifying Bursts of Light

We’ve known that most critters try to avoid power lines, but until recently, scientists were pretty much in the dark when it came to why. Now, it turns out that to animals, power lines and pylons look like terrifying bands of glowing, flashing bursts of light.

This revelation came about as the result of a recent study on wild reindeer in Norway. Apparently, reindeer’s eyes are able to detect ultraviolet light, which means they can see when power lines give off flashes of UV light—a phenomenon human eyes are completely blind to. What’s more, for those sensitive to it, these ultraviolet bursts are even visible in total darkness.

As Professor Glen Jeffrey of University College London explained to The Independent:

Reindeer see deep into the UV range because the Arctic is especially rich in UV light. Insulators on power lines give off flashes of UV light. The animals potentially see not just a few flashes but a line of flashes extending right across the horizon.

This is the first bit of evidence that explains why we think they are avoiding power lines.

The UV glow itself comes from a build up of ionized gas that commonly occurs at various points in high-voltage power cables. These build-ups—known as coronas (and seen below)—will eventually dissipate, causing the UV flash of light that can scare critters on the ground. But it’s not just reindeer, another recent study revealed that about 35 different species are sensitive to ultraviolet radiation.

Still, the problem isn’t just the fact that these glowing power lines can be unsettling; they may actually be causing animal communities to fragment.

Animals have always had a tendency to avoid power lines and related structures, but the reason behind their avoidance wasn’t clear—power lines are neither a physical barrier nor necessarily associated with humans. Now that we know animals can see in UV, though, it looks like we finally have our answer.

The videos above and below were captured by electric utility-owned helicopters with mounted UV cameras. Since flashes of ultraviolet light can be a symptom of conduction problems, companies regularly use this method as part of routine inspections. These cameras only capture a limited range of of UV light though, so what we’re seeing here barely begins to compare to what more highly UV-sensitive animals are witness to. It’s not hard to see how sudden explosions of light could frighten any number of forest creatures.

Now that we know what’s causing these animal communities to scatter, we can actually begin to require utility companies to consult with herders before the construction process begins. But more than that, this will hopefully act as a wakeup call—because whether or not we realize it, as cities expand, it’s often the displaced animals that end up paying the price. [The GuardianThe Independent], from The Independent and The Guardian

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit Is The Amazing Future Of Automotive Infotainment

Audi's Virtual Cockpit Is The Amazing Future Of Automotive Infotainment

The interior of the next Audi TT has just been shown at CES 2014. To say it’s full of technology is probably an understatement when you look at the huge map where the instruments would normally be. P

That’s a 12.3-inch TFT display in the gauge cluster of the new TT, which Audi says has the first “virtual cockpit.” Drivers can switch between two modes, according to Audi, with a traditional tach-and-speedo arrangement available.P

Audi's Virtual Cockpit Is The Amazing Future Of Automotive Infotainment

The rest of the interior looks standard Audi fare, meaning it’s pretty gorgeous and everything will probably feel amazing. The MMI knob changes functions in the TFT display, meaning the rest of the interior gets to stay button and screen-free. Oh, that’s a manual transmission, too.P

Audi's Virtual Cockpit Is The Amazing Future Of Automotive Infotainment

The air vents are cool in that they also house the climate controls.17P

Norwegian Hotel Corkscrews around in a Loop

Lofoten Opera Hotel by Snøhetta

Architecture firm Snøhetta has unveiled images of a hotel that will wind across a rocky outcrop in Norway’s Lofoten archipelago.

Expected to start on site later this year, the Lofoten Opera Hotel will be located on an outlying site in Glåpen flanked by a mountain range. The new low-rise structure will loop a central courtyard, but will offer views out across the sea to the south and west.

Lofoten Opera Hotel by Snøhetta

“The spectacular view and the feeling of being ‘in the middle’ of the elements are the premier qualities of the site,” said Snøhetta in a statement.

“In a unifying gesture the site is captured in a circular movement, the complex layers of references to nature, culture, land qualities are translated into a band that transforms the site into a place.”

The 11,000 square-metre building will accommodate a mix of hotels and apartments within its curved body. There will also be spa facilities, seawater basins, hiking resources and an amphitheatre.

The project looks set to attract new guests to Lofoten, which is home to one of Norway’s 18 national tourist routes. Stretching along an 184-kilometre road, the route encompasses facilities for tourists exploring the natural landscape, including the Eggum rest stop completed by Snøhetta in 2007.

Eggum Tourist Route by Snøhetta
Eggum rest stop completed by Snøhetta in 2007 in Lofoten

Here’s a description of the project from Snøhetta:

Lofoten Opera Hotel

Furthest west of Lofoten, in Moskenes community close to the town Sørvagen, is Glåpen.

The site extends out to sea to the south and west, linking the contact between ocean and the tall, shielding mountains to the north and northwest. The location is spectacular, sunny, in the mighty landscape elements, yet in touch with old settlement and sheltered harbors.

Snøhetta has developed a project and looked at a number of factors: the landscape “critical load” vs. new construction, functional and technical aspects of access, infrastructure, ecology and sustainability, connection to outdoors areas and existing buildings. The main goal is to find the development patterns and shapes that trigger the functional, architectural and experiential triggers the plot’s formidable potential. We think it will be essential to find a building program and a scale that “hits”, both in terms of economy, market and individual experience opportunities.

The spectacular view and the feeling of being “in the middle” of the elements are the premier qualities of the site. Plot view, organisation and habitat as form have been inspiring elements behind the concept. In a unifying gesture the site is captured in a circular movement, the complex layers of references to nature, culture, land qualities are translated into a band that transforms the site into a place.

This form creates an inner and outer space, and enhances the site’s inherent potential of an architectural expression. Concept and program are balanced in a mix of hotels, apartments, amphitheatre, spa, hiking and sea water basins within a total size of 11,000 m2. The local beach culture and storstuga are included in the project. The organic form protects and opens at the same time.

Location: Lofoten
Typology: Residential & Hotel
Client: Lofoten Opera AS
Status: Ongoing
Size: 11,000 sqm

Teen sneaks past guard to reach WTC spire

Justin Alexander Casquejo allegedly slipped past four layers of WTC security and spent two hours atop the tallest building in the United States, until he was finally discovered by a construction worker.

A New Jersey teen captivated by 1 World Trade Center sneaked out of his home in the dead of night, got past the wall of security — and a sleeping guard — making it all the way up to the spire, The Post has learned.

Scrawny 16-year-old Justin Casquejo crawled through a hole in a Ground Zero fence at about 4 a.m. Sunday and got a lift up the tower from a clueless union elevator operator, even though he had no ID.

He was dropped off on the 88th floor and hiked the stairs up to the 104th floor — where a guard assigned to protect the top of the world’s biggest terror target was sound asleep.

That guard has since been fired.

Casquejo told cops he then climbed up to the roof and made it up to the antenna.

After spending two glorious hours atop the nation’s tallest buildings snapping photos, the young daredevil was finally caught by a construction worker as he made his way back down.

Casquejo is seen hanging from a crane in Hoboken.Photo: Twitter

“He came here and he ran hog wild,” said a stunned WTC worker.

Casquejo, who lives in Weehawken, NJ, laughed the whole thing off Wednesday afternoon when The Post asked him about his escapade.

“Ha ha, oh yeah, that. Right. I would really love to talk to you guys because I have a lot that I want to say about it,” he said. “I was told that I just can’t [talk] without permission.”

But he summed up his adventure in a one-word tweet: “Inspired.”

Casquejo has long been a WTC buff. His Facebook page features photos of him posing with the building in the background.

Photo: Facebook

When cops questioned him, he bragged that he had little trouble getting past security at a building that was supposed to be cloaked in a “ring of steel.”

“I walked around the construction site and figured out how to access the Freedom Tower rooftop,” he said, according to court papers.

Law-enforcement sources said Casquejo got into the heavily guarded site like a kid sneaking into an abandoned warehouse — though a crack in a barbed-wire fence.

“He’s a skinny kid who got through a skinny hole,” the source said.

The elevator operator who asked no questions while taking him skyward has since been reassigned — but got to keep his job because of his hardhat union. But the guard who was snoozing on the top floor wasn’t as lucky — he was immediately fired.

Casquejo faces a charge of misdemeanor trespassing, but his adventure is an epic failure of at least four layers of security at the WTC site.

The Port Authority Police Department, the NYPD and a private security company patrol the building perimeter. Another private company secures the interior.

None of them would comment.

Additional reporting by Rebecca Rosenberg and Antonio Antenucci

New York Post

The World’s Fastest Model Rocket Car Just Hit 285 mph


The World's Fastest Model Rocket Car Just Hit 285 mph

A toy car could easily break the sound barrier—or go even faster—in a kid’s spirited imagination. But back in reality it takes more than that. You need engineering, patience, and a handful of rocket model engines—all of which helped Samvir Thandi’s SST-3B-Falcon rocket hit a top speed of 287.59 mph.

That was fast enough to set a new world record for model rocket cars, besting the previous record from last year by a whopping 84 mph. And that speed was actually just the average of two runs which is how the record is officially determined. On one run the small car actually hit 344 mph.

Of course at those speeds the car is basically just a missile with wheels, and is completely uncontrollable. Which is why on one run it nearly obliterated a set of timing gates.

And it’s obvious that speed runs in Samvir’s family. His father, Jaswant Thandi, is on the British Bloodhound SSC team that is hoping to break the 1,000 mph mark in a full-sized rocket-powered car. Or at the least, hopefully one-up his 18-year-old son. [GetWestLondonvia Damn Geeky]

A Sniping Sprinkler That Only Targets Your Plants When They Need Water

I posted the following article as it related to drones, remote control, building security and keeping your trees growning…


A Sniping Sprinkler That Only Targets Your Plants When They Need Water

A built-in sprinkler system is a better way to water a garden than just standing there randomly blasting plants with a hose. And taking that idea one step further, the Dropletturns your sprinklers into intelligent snipers that only water the plants you tell them to using a focused stream—except when rainy weather already has.

When connected to your home’s Wi-Fi network the compact Droplet water cannons can not only be programmed to fire exactly where you target them, you can also program an exhaustively detailed schedule of when they should and shouldn’t blast away.

But the software controlling the sprinklers also has access to detailed weather reports so it knows not to water if there’s strong odds it’s going to rain soon. You can even specify the type of plants and soil it’s watering, and it will adjust its own schedule to account for special needs.

A Sniping Sprinkler That Only Targets Your Plants When They Need Water

Besides being a much better way to water a garden for the lazy and technologically inclined, the Droplet is also promised to dramatically reduce your water consumption—up to 90 percent—saving you hundreds of dollars on your water bill every year. Which is great because each Droplet sprinkler head will cost you $300 once it’s finally available.

So we might actually hold out for generation two that hopefully introduces some motion tracking capabilities to constantly harass the local squirrel population—even if it triples our water bill. [Droplet via Gizmag]